Hotelier Saves The Day By Washing Smokey T-Shirts For Runners In Tunnel To Towers Race

SI Advance - September 26, 2009

by Amy Padnani

Nearly all of the Tunnel to Tower T-shirts burned in yesterday's truck blaze were salvaged, thanks to staff members at The Hilton Garden Inn, Bloomfield, who pulled all-nighters in the laundry room.

About 14,000 of the 15,000 T-shirts brought to The Hilton last night were washed, dried and ironed, said a sleepy Richard Nicotra, who was laundering until 3 this morning.

"We have these gigantic washing machines and gigantic dryers," he said. "When the firefighters brought the T-shirts to us, they smelled terribly of smoke. But when they were coming out of the laundry, they were like brand new."

The incident occurred at about 8 p.m. yesterday, when a UPS truck carrying race day kits suddenly caught fire. The driver, who was taking the shirts from the Petrides Complex, Sunnyside, to Manhattan, stopped the truck and jumped out. An estimated 18,000 T-shirts were burned, soaked or partially damaged along with registration forms, race bibs, running chips and some plaques and trophies.

The Tunnel to Tower run is held every year to honor the late firefighter Stephen Siller. It follows the path Siller took on the on the day of the attacks on the World Trade Center. Though he was off-duty, he rushed toward Manhattan when he heard what was happening. Unable to get into the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, he got out of his car and ran to the Towers with his gear strapped to his back.

Siller's brother, Frank Siller, said this morning that Friday night's mishap was a small challenge to overcome, and that the race will go on. Race participants can still pick up their kits from the Embassy Suites Hotel at 102 North End Ave. in downtown Manhattan until 5 p.m. today.

"At first, you say, 'oh my God, I thought I had it all figured out,'" Siller said yesterday as he was setting up for the event. "But as they say, 'if you want to make God laugh, you tell him you have plans.'"

"We're not worried," he added. "As a family, as a community, we know this is just another thing to make us all closer."

Last night, the Nicotras, many firefighters and two dedicated members of the Hilton's housekeeping staff, Blanca Cubides and William Fonseca, toiled in the laundry room from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m., talking and joking with one another to stay awake.

"It was a real joint effort and it was great to be a part of it," Nicotra said. "Honestly, it was fun last night watching all of the firemen doing laundry. They were joking that they hope their wives won't find out about this, or else they'd be doing laundry at home."